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MIF, Neurogenesis, Relief: Some very hopeful research

Always seems to be absolutely zippo going on when it comes to new pharmacological treatments for mood and anxiety.  And we so often wonder if there’s anything happening in the world of research that may bring us good news. Well, researchers at Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have a delivery for us.

The work targets a protein molecule known as macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) – and it’s involvement in neurogenesis, depression, anxiety, and cognitive issues. Now, the research isn’t at all about the discovery of MIF, as it’s been known for some time it plays a role in tissue swelling and, perhaps, the development of cancer. No, the discovery hub-bub has to do with MIF’s location.

Go figure, the research team, headed by Carmen Sandi, found very high concentrations of MIF in the stem cells of the hippocampus. A member of the brain’s limbic system, the hippocampus is a crescent-shaped bit of anatomy that in cross-section resembles a seahorse, and curves in an upward direction toward the back of the brain from the amygdala. The word, “hippocampus” is derived from the Greek, “hippos,” meaning horse, and “kampi,” meaning curve.

The hippocampus is assigned the task of forming event-induced memories, converting them to long-term memories. So don’t ever downplay the role of the hippocampus as it relates to memory and emotional reaction; because remembering threatening events, people, etc. gives us a huge leg-up on responding to future threats from the same or similar sources. Indeed, that’s memory’s foundational purpose.

Well, back to the research. It’s been known for some that portions of the hippocampus are very fertile ground for neurogenesis. And with the discovery of so much MIF in the hippocampus, we may now know why. See, neurogenesis is about the creation of brand-spankin’-new neurons. So if it’s occurring so frequently in the hipposcampus it’s pretty easy to understand why its result is the formation of new memories. And since memory formation has so much to do with emotional reaction, it’s easy to understand why all of this can so positively impact mood and anxiety.

So how did the research team come to figure all of this out? Well, in the lab, they manipulated MIF levels in the hippocampus of rats. And when they did they found that lower amounts of MIF big-time reduced the production of neurons and increased anxiety. Along with this discovery was the revelation that lower levels of MIF inhibited the work of antidepressants in their mission to ramp-up neurogenesis, thereby positively impacting mood and anxiety.

So MIF, neurogenesis, the hippocampus, mood, and anxiety became, shall we say, an item.

Please understand I don’t present articles like this to impress you with big words. No, to me, research such as this provides all kinds of hope. And that hope is based in knowing work is being done to find the contributors to our distress, as well as in the development of new and exciting pharmacological interventions for what we endure.

So what do you think? Questions? Comments? We need ’em…